Planners have developed their own jargon that is sometimes confusing to the
public. As a service to Portland-area residents confused about Metro and its
plans, the Thoreau Institute has prepared this dictionary of commonly used
planning terms. Each of the definitions is documented based on statements by
Metro or other planning agencies and advocates.
Explanation--The urban-growth boundary is causing Portland
housing prices to shoot up, turning Portland from one of the most affordable
cities in the country to one of the least affordable. In response, Metro wants
developers to build homes on high-density developments: apartments, row houses,
or homes on very small lots.
- affordable housing
- housing subsidized with your gasoline, property, income, and other taxes.
But people don't want to live in such homes, so developers will build them only
if they are subsidized. Portland and other local cities are therefore waiving
development fees, giving ten years of property tax breaks, and even giving
developers outright grants if they will build higher density housing.
Explanation--New Urbanist James Kunstler refers to the
auto-centered world as "the evil empire." Metro advocates such as Portland City
Commissioner Charles Hales often talk of people having a "love affair with" or
being "addicted to" their cars, as if use of the auto was somehow irrational.
Planners just cannot believe that people use cars because for many purposes
they are more efficient and more convenient than any other form of
- devices of the devil that people shouldn't be allowed to use.
Explanation--When cities spent most of their transportation
money on roads and streets, planners said that this was "unbalanced." Now the
Portland area is spending well over half of all its transportation funds on
light rail, even though planners say light rail will carry less than 2 percent
of the trips Portlanders take. But this still isn't "balanced" enough, and
Portland wants to spend even more money on downtown streetcars.
- balanced transportation system
- spending more than half of a city's transportation dollars on a
transportation system that serves less than 2 percent of its people.
the past, transportation planners tried to reduce congestion by redesigning or
improving roads. Metro has no such plans. Instead, it says that "the 2040
Growth Concept represents a departure from past transportation planning
practice. Concentrating development in high-density activity centers will . . .
produce levels of congestion that signal positive urban development."
(Regional Transportation Plan Update, March, 1996, p. 1-20.)
- a sign of positive urban development.
Explanation--Congress created the "CMAQ"
fund out of your gas taxes in 1991 to help cities reduce congestion and
pollution, but it restricts them from spending the money on roads and other
things that would actually reduce congestion. Instead, Gresham and other
Portland-area cities have used the funds to subsidize high-density developments
that will increase congestion.
- Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality Fund
- a federal fund of $1 billion per year used to increase congestion and
reduce air quality.
Explanation--Being the densest part of
the city, downtown is the most congested and many people have learned to avoid
it. But Metro's goal is to insure that, as the population of the Portland area
grows by 75 percent, downtown also grows by 75 percent. This, of course, will
make downtown more congested than ever. To meet this goal, Metro plans to
continue to route nearly all bus and light rail lines through downtown even
though most travellers don't want to go there.
- the congested part of the city that Metro thinks everyone should visit as
often as possible.
Explanation--In the 1970s, Tri-Met attracted people out of
their cars at a cost to taxpayers of a dollar a rider by concentrating on
improving bus service. But after Tri-Met started building light rail, it
neglected the bus system and ridership fell. Today, bus ridership is
increasing, but not as fast as the overall population. Light rail, meanwhile,
costs taxpayers $10 or more per rider, and some parts of the westside and
south-north lines will cost over $100 per rider.
- efficient transportation
- spending hundreds of tax dollars per rider on light rail when the same
rider could be carried by bus for just a dollar or two.
Explanation--Light rail vehicles can carry three times as
many people as a bus, but they often run nearly empty and even during rush hour
are rarely filled to capacity.
- high-capacity transit
- transit that has a lot of empty seats.
Explanation--Los Angeles has the highest density of any
metropolitan area in the nation (about 5,400 people per square mile compared
with Portland's 2,800). It also has the fewest miles of freeway per million
people of any city (about 51 miles per million people compared with Portland's
- keeping Portland from becoming Los Angeles
- using Los Angeles as a model for Portland's future.
Metro wants to increase Portland's population density to nearly 5,000 per
square mile while building almost no new roads, which will make Portland more
like Los Angeles than any other U.S. city. "In public discussions we gather the
general impression that Los Angeles represents a future to be avoided," says
Metro. But "with respect to density and road per capita mileage it displays an
investment pattern we desire to replicate." (Metro Measured, May, 1994,
Explanation--Light rail "is not worth the cost if you're
just looking at transit" says top Metro growth planner John Fregonese. "It's a
way to develop your community to higher densities." After building light rail
through neighborhoods that don't really want it, Metro tells them that they
have to accept higher density developments to generate ridership. (Fregonese
quoted in Wisconsin State Journal, 23 July 1995.)
- light rail
- 1) an excuse for forcing neighborhoods to accept higher density housing. 2)
a way for cities to get more federal pork.
But the big push for light rail comes from engineering companies, banks, and
other firms that expect to make huge profits from construction. Even Metro
admits that better bus service could carry nearly as many people as light rail
but at a much lower cost (which means it could be done on far more than three
or four routes). But buses don't create any local construction profits. If
Portland doesn't build the south-north light rail, says Metro executive Mike
Burton, it will lose its "fair share of federal transportation dollars . . . to
other regions of the country." In this case, "fair share" means "all we can
get." (Burton memo to JPACT, 11 December 1996.)
Explanation--Metro's 2040 plan projects a 75 percent
increase in population by the year 2040, but Metro plans to build fewer than 15
percent more roads. As a result, Metro planners predict that congestion will
increase by nearly 300 percent over current levels. But Metro admits that 90
percent of all travel in the region will still be by automobile.
- making Portland more livable for the 10 percent of people willing to live
without cars and a living hell for the 90 percent of people who need to drive.
Explanation--Planners regard the mobility
provided by the automobile as the major problem with our cities, since such
mobility created suburbs, shopping centers, edge cities, and other things
planners don't like. So planners hope to immobilize the auto with congestion
and limited parking.
- Los Angeles
- a California city that Metro desires to replicate in Portland. See "keeping
Portland from becoming Los Angeles."
- mass transit
- transportation that doesn't go when or where you need it, is useless for
shopping, often requires standing in the rain, and is much slower than driving
One planner told Washington Post writer Joel Garreau that he would "fix"
the suburbs by increasing "dramatically the real residential population. . . .
I'd raise the gasoline tax by 300 percent. I'd raise the price of automobiles
enormously. . . . I'd limit movement completely. . . . And then I would put
enormous costs on parking." In short, comments Garreau, this planner would
"force Americans to live in a world that few now seem to value." But it sounds
very similar to what Metro wants to do to Portland. (Quotes from Joel Garreau's
book, Edge City.)
Explanation--New Urbanism was developed by several
architects who believe that automobiles will soon disappear and that we should
completely redesign our cities to live without them. Their designs are based on
American cities from around the turn of the century, when few people had autos,
and focus on high densities, mixed uses, and lots of transit. The fact that
their designs never work has not dissuaded Metro from forcing them on
- New Urbanism
- a planning philosophy that aims to make cities more livable by increasing
congestion, reducing living space, and preventing people from working and
shopping where they like. Metro solidly supports New
Explanation--To planners, the
large parking lots in front of many stores are "pedestrian unfriendly." So
planners want to forbid such lots and require stores to build right to the
street fronts. Parking, if any, will be behind the stores. That will be more
inconvenient for auto users, and could be dangerous at night. The fact that
Metro projects that 90 percent of people will still drive even after Portland
has been made more pedestrian-friendly is irrelevant to planners.
- pedestrian-friendly design
- automobile-hostile design.
writing a plan for Portland in the year 2040. But who in, say, 1950 knew that
jet airliners would carry most intercity travellers, that freeways would carry
most commuters, and that personal computers and the internet would allow many
people to work at home in 1997? They couldn't know that, so a plan they would
write for 1997 would be entirely wrong.
- planning for the future
- locking cities into the past.
Since Metro doesn't know what Portlanders will need in 2040, it simply plans
Portland to look like planners' ideal of a city, namely Portland in 1890: A
city with light rail (they called them trollies then), high-density
developments (they called them tenements then), and mixed uses (they called
Explanation--Metro's "community outreach" plan for its
light-rail planning specifies that it will "identify citizens, business and
community leaders willing to speak and make presentations." Metro has indeed
identified and arranges speaking engagements for more than 50 citizens who
favor light rail, but none that oppose it.
- public involvement
- making sure that everyone who agrees with planners gets involved.
Explanation--France has a train that goes 180 miles per
hour, and Amtrak runs trains at 110 miles per hour. So people think that all
trains are fast. But the MAX light rail averages less than 20 miles per hour,
and the westside and south/north light rails will be about the same.
- rapid transit
- transit that moves at 20 miles per hour.
Explanation--"Sprawl is the enemy" thundered an
Oregonian editorial. But is it? Despite rapid population growth and
ever-larger average home lot sizes, the urbanized area in and around Portland
occupies only a quarter of a percent of the state of Oregon. Low-density
developments allow people to avoid congestion, enjoy the open spaces in their
back yards, and choose their own lifestyles. But they don't threaten open space
or farm lands, since more than 98 percent of Oregon is open space and more than
60 percent of it is public land, meaning it will remain open space forever.
- the way you want to live but planners don't think you
Explanation--Portland City Commissioner Charles Hales
refers to the suburbs as "trash. . . godawful subdivisions." Hales' complaint
is that many of Portland's suburbs are low density which, in his opinion,
wastes land. So Metro wants to zone the suburbs out of existance by forcing
them to accept higher densities. "Suburbs are passé," says Michael
Burton, Metro's director. (Hales quoted in Governing magazine, May,
1997; Burton quoted in Sunset magazine, November, 1996.)
- next to the automobile, the greatest evil ever imposed on
Explanation--Traffic calming includes a variety of
techniques such as making lanes and streets narrower, installing "bumpouts" and
other obstructions, all aimed at making people drive slower. Such techniques
make sense on neighborhood streets where speed limits are low. But planners
want to apply them to major commercial streets as well.
- traffic calming
- putting obstacles in streets and roads to make driving as frustrating as
Planners see the fact that traffic calming will increase congestion as a plus,
not a minus. "Anywhere that doesn't have congestion, you probably wouldn't want
to be there," says one planner. "A lot of people are furious about tampering
with their ability to drive fast," says another. "But they aren't politically
Planners' real goal is to make suburban streets just as congested as downtown.
Then people won't want to be in the suburbs, planners think, and they will go
downtown. More likely, they will simply move to some other city. (All quotes
from the Wall Street Journal, 7 August 1996.)
Explanation--Light rail is supposed
to be "transportation for the twenty-first century." In fact, light-rail
technology was developed in the 1880s and has not significantly advanced since
1900. Metro's housing plans for Portland after the year 2000 are also based on
nineteenth-century housing, including lots of apartments and mixed uses, and
housing intermingled with commercial developments.
- twenty-first century
- nineteenth century.
"vision" of the future, everybody lives in "villages" or high-density
neighborhoods in which commercial and residential uses are mixed. People can
therefore walk to work or shopping and won't need cars. Northwest 23rd in
Portland is often cited as a good example; others are Manhatten and Brooklyn.
- urban villages
- slums or future slums.
Explanation--When zoning was first developed in the 1920s,
the Supreme Court said that it was a legitimate tool that neighborhoods can use
to keep "nuisances" such as apartments and commercial uses out. Now zoning is
used by Metro to force neighborhoods to accept such nuisances, which Metro sees
as positive developments.
- 1) a way for planning agencies to force neighborhoods to accept unwanted
developments such as row houses, apartments, and commercial uses. 2) (archaic)
a way for planning agencies to help neighborhoods prevent unwanted developments
such as row houses, apartments, and commercial uses.
The Electronic Drummer | Urban Growth